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The term Tarantella groups a number of different southern Italian couple folk dances characterized by a fast upbeat tempo, usually in 6/8 time (sometimes 18/8 o 4/4), accompanied by tambourines.. It is among the most recognized of traditional Italian music. The specific dance name varies with every region, for instance tammuriata in Campania, pizzica in the Salentomarker region.

Courtship vs tarantism dances

The stately courtship tarantella is danced by a couple or couples, short in duration, graceful and elegant, and features characteristic music. On the other hand, the supposedly curative or symptomatic tarantella was danced solo by a supposed victim of a "tarantula" bite; it was agitated in character, lasted for hours or even up to days, and featured characteristic music. However, other forms of the dance were and still are couple dances (not necessarily of different sexes), usually either mimicking courtship or a sword fight. The confusion appears to arrive from the fact that the spiders, condition, its sufferers ("tarantolati") and the dances all have similar names to the city of Tarantomarker.

The first dance originated in the Naplesmarker region and spread next to Apuliamarker, Basilicata and Calabria, all part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The Neapolitan tarantella is a courtship dance performed by couples whose "rhythms, melodies, gestures and accompanying songs are quite distinct" featuring faster more cheerful music. Its origins may further lie in "a fifteenth-century fusion between the Spanish Fandango and the Moresque ballo di sfessartia.'" The "magico-religious" tarantella is a solo dance performed supposedly to cure through perspiration the delirium and contortions attributed to the bite of a spider at harvest (summer) time. The dance was later applied as a supposed cure for the behavior of neurotic women ("'Carnevaletto delle donne'").

The original legend tells that someone who had supposedly been bitten by the tarantula (or the Mediterranean black widow) spider had to dance to a upbeat tempo to sweat the poison out.

There are several traditional tarantella groups: Officina Zoé, Uccio Aloisi gruppu, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, Selva Cupina, I Tamburellisti di Torrepaduli.

Tarantism

Reportedly, victims who had collapsed or were convulsing would begin to dance with appropriate music and be revived as if a tarantula had bitten them. The music used to treat dancing mania appears to be similar to that used in the case of tarantism though little is known about either. Justus Hecker (1795-1850), describes in his work Epidemics of the Middle Ages:
A convulsion infuriated the human frame....Entire communities of people would join hands, dance, leap, scream, and shake for hours....Music appeared to be the only means of combating the strange epidemic...lively, shrill tunes, played on trumpets and fifes, excited the dancers; soft, calm harmonies, graduated from fast to slow, high to low, prove efficacious for the cure.
The music used against spider bites featured drums and clarinets, was matched to the pace of the victim, and is only weakly connected to its later depiction in the tarantellas of Chopin, Liszt, Rossini, and Heller.

While most serious proponents speculated as to the direct physical benefits of the dancing rather than the power of the music a mid-18th century medical textbook gets the prevailing story backwards describing that tarantulas will be compelled to dance by violin music. It was thought that the Lycosa tarantula wolf spider had lent the name "tarantula" to an unrelated family of spiders having been the species associated with Taranto but since the lycosa tarantula is not inherently deadly in summer or in winter, the highly poisonous Mediterranean black widow (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus) may have been the species originally associated with Taranto's manual grain harvest.

The Tarantella is a dance in which the dancer and the drum player constantly try to upstage each other by dancing longer or playing faster than the other, subsequently tiring one person out first.

Grand Tarantelle ballet

The Balanchine ballet Tarantella is set to Grand Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 67 (ca. 1866) by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, reconstructed and orchestrated by Hershy Kay. The nimble quickness of Tarantella provides a virtuosic showcase. The profusion of steps and the quick changes of direction this brief but explosive pas de deux requires typify the ways in which Balanchine expanded the traditional vocabulary of classical dance.

Notable tarantellas



See also



Sources

  1. Morehead, P.D., Bloombury Dictionary of Music, London, Bloombury, 1992
  2. Toschi, Paolo (1950). Proceedings of the Congress Held in Venice September 7th to 11th, 1949: "A Question about the Tarantella", Journal of the International Folk Music Council, Vol. 2. (1950), p. 19. Translated by N. F.
  3. Ettlinger, Ellen (1965). Review of "La Tarantella Napoletana" by Renato Penna (Rivista di Etnografia), Man, Vol. 65. (Sep. - Oct., 1965), p. 176.
  4. Hecker, Justus. Quoted in Sear, H. G. (1939).
  5. Sear, H. G. (1939). "Music and Medicine", p.45, Music & Letters, Vol. 20, No. 1. (Jan., 1939), pp. 43-54. Note that Sear may mistake the Neapolitan and Apulian tarantellas and that those by Romantic composers to which he refers may have been intended as Neapolitan.
  6. Rishton, Timothy J. (1984). "Plagiarism, Fiddles and Tarantulas", The Musical Times, Vol. 125, No. 1696. (Jun., 1984), pp. 325-327.


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